Hume Cronyn | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Hume Cronyn

Hume Cronyn, actor, director, writer (b at London, Ont 18 July 1911, d Fairfield, Conn, 15 June 2003). This skilled farceur and elfin character player teamed often with his wife Jessica TANDY (1909-94).

Hume Cronyn

Hume Cronyn, actor, director, writer (b at London, Ont 18 July 1911, d Fairfield, Conn, 15 June 2003). This skilled farceur and elfin character player teamed often with his wife Jessica TANDY (1909-94). Amateur beginnings at Ridley College, St Catharines, Ontario, and with the Montreal Repertory Theatre and Player's Club while studying law and art at McGill University led to stage training in Austria and New York. His professional career was launched in 1931 with Cochran's Stock Company in Washington, DC, and, from 1934 on, he established his Broadway reputation in productions of Hipper's Holiday (1934), Three Men on a Horse (1935), Boy Meets Girl (1936), High Tor and Room Service (1937) and The Three Sisters (1939).

Turned down for military duty, he produced wartime revues for Canadian Active Service Canteens and the USO. Cronyn made his Hollywood debut with 2 Alfred Hitchcock films, Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Lifeboat (1944), and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in The Seventh Cross (1944) opposite Spencer Tracy. In 1946, he directed Tandy in Tennessee Williams's Portrait of a Madonna (1946), which led to her triumphant Broadway casting in A Streetcar Named Desire (1947). He is also remembered for cameos in movies such as The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) and Sunrise at Campobello (1960).

Frequently compared to the Lunts, Cronyn and Tandy were united onstage many times in productions such as A Day by the Sea (1955), the London production of Big Fish, Little Fish (1962), The Physicists (1964), the inaugural season of the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis (1963) and again in 1965, A Delicate Balance (1966), Happy Days (1972), Noël Coward in Two Keys (1974-5), The Many Faces of Love (a 1977 collage of prose and poetry, videotaped by the CBC), The Gin Game (1977-80), Foxfire (1980, which had its premiere while they were playing at the STRATFORD FESTIVAL), and The Petition (1986).

Cronyn and Tandy acted together in many films, including Best Friends (1982), Cocoon (1985) and its sequel Cocoon: The Return (1988), Batteries Not Included (1987), To Dance with a White Dog (1993), which prophetically foreshadowed reality when Tandy's character dies, leaving a grieving Cronyn to cope, and their last together, the Canadian-made feature Camilla (1994-95), in which Cronyn plays Tandy's former lover.

"The First Couple of the American Theatre" were given Kennedy Center Honors (1986) and the National Medal of Arts at the White House (1990). Cronyn, who retained his Canadian citizenship, was the first Canadian to be so honoured. In 1994, at the Tony Awards in New York, they were recognized with a lifetime achievement award. Cronyn also made numerous movies and made-for-TV specials on his own: Cleopatra (1963), Rollover (1981), Impulse (1984), Month of Sundays (1988-89, with his actress daughter Tandy Cronyn), Age Old Friends (Emmy Award: 1990), Christmas on Division Street (1991), Neil Simon's Broadway Bound (1992), The Pelican Brief (1993), Marvin's Room (1996), Twelve Angry Men (1997), and Love on the Land (1998). Some of his famous roles included the Stage Manager in Our Town, Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, Polonius (Tony Award 1964), Richard III, Shylock, and Hadrian VII at Stratford in 1969, the year he lost an eye to cancer.

In addition to the Order of Canada, he held more than 20 awards for distinguished performances. In 1988 a special gala was held in New York establishing a $50 000 Endowment Fund for the Hume Cronyn Scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Art, where he had studied. The scholarship was designated for Canadian students, who make up about 10% of the enrolment. Dedicated to the literate theatre, his own writings included short stories for Maclean's magazine in the 1930s; 2 screenplays for Hitchcock, Rope (1945) and Under Capricorn (1949); and a quartet of dramas, Foxfire and The Dollmaker (1980), To Dance with the White Dog (1993), and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, written with British author Susan Cooper, whom he married in 1996. A Terrible Liar, Hume Cronyn's memoirs to 1966, were published in 1991.

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